Pajala – Swedish Lapland
In December 2016 Mum & I ticked off one of the most exciting places on our travel bucket list, Lapland! Specifically, Pajala – Swedish Lapland.
When I was a kid, she’d always promised me that one day she’d take me to Lapland but y’know, travel ain’t cheap. Fast forward to December 2016 and at the ripe ol’ ages of 24 and 51 there we were, the only all-adult group on the plane, more excited than anyone else to be on our way to Pajala, Sweden.
Mum is a travel agent and through work won a super amazing discount on the Newmarket Holiday’s Lapland Santa Experience Day Trip. So we packed our bags, met in Exeter and set off on the day trip of a lifetime.
Pajala is close to Sweden’s border with Finland, about 100km into the Arctic Circle (yes, it’s a bit chilly). Just a 3.5 hour flight to Pajala’s airport from the UK and a short 15-minute coach ride through the town itself and you’re officially in Lapland! Pajala’s airport is the smallest I’ve ever been to (and yes, that includes the shack that was once Exeter airport) and is staffed only when necessary (i.e. a flight full of UK tourists are coming) by the town locals – the ‘airport security’ consisted of a local police officer. This, naturally, only adds to the feeling that one is truly on their way to visit Santa.
We travelled at the beginning of December and everything was covered with snow, it was a bonified, actual Winter Wonderland. Average temperatures for this time of year in Pajala are around -10C but they were coming out of a ‘cold snap’ when we visited and so the temperature was actually -20C (more about my fringe freezing later).
The town itself is tiny, you don’t get to go out and explore it as part of the day trip (although technically there’s nothing stopping you) but you get a sense when driving through it on the coach – it’s like something out of a fairytale.
About the day trip
The day trip with Newmarket Holidays is designed to give you and I’ll be honest, the tiny humans in your life, a taste of Lapland. It allows you to do some of the most iconic Lapland activities in the most magical of places.
Pretty much everything.
- Flights, to and from Pajala
- Transfers in Pajala
- 3 activities (Husky dog experience, snowmobile driving, reindeer sleigh ride)
- A private audience with Mr Claus himself (& gifts for the little ones)
- Lunch (meatballs, obvs)
- All the hot berry juice and ginger biscuits you can drink and eat
- Snowsuit/gear hire
How does the day start?
Early. If you’re going to fly anywhere and back in the same day you need to be prepared for a long day. A 5am flight got us to Pajala in about 3.5 hours.
Once at the airport you’re greeted by some old blokes (technical term) in traditional dress who point the way to the coach. A short 15 min coach drive through the town and you arrive at ‘Santas Village’.
The village itself is made up of a few different buildings and areas. The main building is where you’ll find the changing rooms, toilets, bar/restaurant and gift shop. Then there is a beautiful traditional old Swedish style house that we were told is actually where the staff can stay. And the final main building is the teepee, complete with real log fire and reindeer hides. Then off to the edges of the central area, are the Husky dogs and the snowmobile track and the whole place is surrounded by real, unfenced, beautiful woodland.
By this point you’ve been split into 4 groups and given your itinerary – this bit is really just to help everyone get to do everything and stop everyone rushing to do the same activity at the same time – but it’s all actually very flexible.
When you get to Santas Village you’re told to change into your show gear, or more likely, borrow theirs. If you don’t have a single item of warm clothing you’ll probably manage, there are snowsuits and separates for just about every size and shape going, as well as snowboots, hats gloves etc… We took our own ski gloves, snow boots and hats but borrowed the snowsuits.
Once you’re dressed, it’s time to find your first activity.
Husky Dog Rides
For us, the first activity was a Husky dog ride (*squeels*) – we made our way over to the ‘pick up point’ and waited for our turn (and when I say waited, I mean gaze around in complete and utter amazement at the beauty of the place and ALL THAT SNOW).
There’s three or four groups of Husky’s, each with about 10-14 in the pack – our ‘driver’ was actually from the UK! She’d gone travelling and one thing led to another and she ended up settling down in Sweden and becoming a professional Husky dog racer (as one does). The ride was simply incredible, you’re sat or rather lying down (proper traditional like) on the reindeer hide sledge and zipping through the woods and then out into this beautiful open valley. The dogs are loving every second of it, as are you.
We had time to do this once more during the day and the driver asked me to ‘hold the break’ (which was essentially a snow anchor) for her while she helped some other guests. So there I was, stood holding onto the reins, literally putting as much weight and force onto this ‘break’ as I possibly could for dear life, as the pack of dogs tugged and pulled and barked because they wanted to run on – all the while with mum shouting, ‘IF IT STARTS TO MOVE, JUST DIVE OFF, YOU HEAR ME? DIVE OFF!’ – thankfully it didn’t. Pretty damn incredible.
Snowmobiles – Essentially jetskis-on-ice. Yes, I did slightly feel like I was in a James Bond movie. Drive your own in pairs or hop on the sleigh being pulled by the leader-snowmobile – we tried both and both times I was terrified.
Reindeer sleigh ride – The most relaxed of the activities, Pajala is a Reindeer farming community when it isn’t Santa’s village (which, considering Rudolph, seems kind of uncouth, no?) so there is no shortage of real-life reindeers!
The search for Santa
No trip to Lapland would be complete without a private audience with the big guy himself now would it? Obviously, this trip is designed with tiny humans in mind the most, but any Proper Grown Up couldn’t fail to be in awe of the search for Santa.
Sadly I don’t have any pictures I can share of this because we did it at night but essentially, you’re sent on a winding path through a small valley and into what I can only describe as truly enchanted woodlands. The path is lined with lanterns and at the halfway point, you’re greeted by ‘elves’ serving yet more addictive hot berry juice and ginger biscuits, who reassuringly let you know that you’re almost there.
Eventually, you reach Santas house, which is a beautiful (if a little pokey for the world’s most successful toy manufacturer) wooden cabin, adorned with Christmas decorations (naturally). You’re greeted by more elves who show you in and introduce you to The Real Life Santa. The usual ‘have you been good this year?’ and ‘oh I think I already know what you want for Christmas’ speech is given and photos are taken and even more hot berry juice is consumed and then it’s time to board the sleigh (un-traditionally pulled by a snowmobile, rather than Rudolf) back to the centre of the village.
Worth the wait?
As the day came to a close and groups of children zipped around playing with sledges put out by staff, me and mum waited for even the shortest glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, which do frequent Pajala. Sadly, we were out of luck, but nothing, not even the non-existent Northern Lights, could taint what a perfect day we’d had. Finally, we’d made it to Lapland!
I’d never been on a ‘snowy holiday’ before so I had no idea what to expect – but the day was perfect. Incredibly well organised by Newmarket Holidays, it felt like everything had been thought off and every little detail taken care of. Being such a small place, Pajala is not like the more widely known Finnish Lapland but as an introduction to this type of getaway, it’s a magical experience for everyone – and frankly, I can’t imagine a better way to spend 20 hours of your life.
Want to check out the trip we took for yourself? Visit the Newmarket Holidays website here.
P.s. this post is in no way in collaboration or sponsored by Newmarket Holidays or Swedish Lapland, I just had the most incredible time and couldn’t not share it with you.